Ragnarok DS is a handheld RPG set in the world of Midgard, the same world as the title's online massively multiplayer counterpart. The PC title has been a hugely successful and long running series, but can a standalone handheld game reproduce the same successful gameplay as its big brother?
Though the game shares the same world as the PC game Ragnarok Online, the story follows an isolated set of characters separate from those found in the MMO. Since there is no integration, the story follows a main character by the name of Ales. After losing both of his parents, Ales looks to become an 'Adventurer' to attain fame and fortune. Along the way he meets a mysterious girl named Sierra, she is a magic user who appears to have a serious case of amnesia. The story clearly isn't the most gripping tale ever told, or close to it. However, it does manage to hold enough interest to keep playing and includes plot points to keep the game moving along. Unfortunately, it doesn't really do anything beyond that though. The story may be a little more interesting for those involved in the PC game, but that's about it.
What the game does feature is a well built, and fairly simple action-based RPG combat system that functions very smoothly. It's all based around the DS' touch screen interface, so combat feels much like the point and click style of the PC edition. Surprisingly, the game uses strictly the touch screen as default, and it all works very well. Attacking is done by selecting the monsters on screen, with a hotbar in the top corner to quickly select spells and abilities. The level system also has two independent attributes. One for the job system that controls skills and spells, and one for the base levels that control the standard attack, defence, and magic skill points.
Exploration and navigation is another feature that is well implemented in Ragnarok DS. When visiting cities, there is a list of shops and activities in the town, rather than just walking around from house to house. Making a quick menu for cities works very well and cuts down on wasting time walking all over a village to find where to buy a new weapon. One thing that is bothersome with the travel is the forests and dungeons that have to be traversed to get between cities. There is no fast travel option available, so there is a lot of walking involved in some of the longer quests, which negates the effectiveness of the towns themselves. There is also no map until the player finds a chest for the area, which is usually hidden somewhere in the very opening of the area. While the maps are usually fairly easy to find, it would be much better if the map was just provided off the bat to know exactly where to go as by the time players find it, they probably have an idea about where they're going anyway.
At least while travelling, there are varied areas to travel through with monsters that are frequent without being too much. All of the characters are sprite based and have a fairly well animated appearance, which is good since there are no cutscenes that are out of gameplay. The monsters that the player faces are also well varied, albeit very typical.
The sound of the game is probably one of Ragnarok DS biggest issues. Although the songs in the game aren't too bad, they play much too frequently and get annoying as the game goes on. There are also varied sound effects, but they are also very frequent and some different skills and abilities can make the same sound which causes the same sound to overlap again and again. It can really wreak havoc on the ears over a period of time.
The game overall has a very traditional story arc and will last the average player around 40 hours of gameplay, depending on the amount of side quests done. There is also a three player multiplayer mode in the game that works over wi-fi that offers multiple dungeons created at random. It's a worthwhile mode provided there is a way to play with friends.
All in all Ragnarok DS is a pretty standard entry into the RPG genre on the Nintendo DS. In spite of a few issues involving sound and the lack of a story for anyone beyond fans of Ragnarok Online, the gameplay mechanics are actually pretty good. It's certainly not a classic, but for those who are itching for a new RPG to play on their DS, it might be worth checking out.